June 18, 2010
By Debbie Ann Doyle
“Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Academic Historian,” a report offering best practices for evaluating public history scholarship in history departments, was adopted by the Organization of American Historians (OAH) Executive Board on April 8, the National Council on Public History (NCPH) Board of Directors on June 3, and the American Historical Association (AHA) Council on June 5.
The report argues that public history work is generally overlooked in a “tenure process that emphasizes single-authored monographs and articles at the expense of other types of scholarly productions.” Despite increasing interest in public history, public scholarship, and other forms of civic engagement in colleges and universities, current standards for evaluating historical scholarship “do not reflect the great variety of historical practice undertaken by faculty members.” Even departments that hire faculty specifically to teach public history often neglect to reward those historians for carrying out the range of public history activities required in their jobs.
The report provides clear advice for college and university administrators, department chairs, and faculty. It begins with an overview of existing promotion and tenure standards, analyzes the growing interest of college and university administrators in community engagement, and suggests how public history work should be evaluated as scholarship, teaching, and service. The committee that conducted this study hopes it will have ramifications beyond academia, perhaps in organizations, such as federal or state agencies, where the work of public historians is evaluated in promotion decisions.
Reflecting a long conversation on the subject stretching back to the early 1990s, “Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Historian” is, in a sense, the culmination of the work of multiple AHA, NCPH, and OAH committees over the years. The AHA Task Force on Public History‘s 2004 report had exhorted the association to reopen the discussion about what counts in the work of history faculty. Participants in a town hall meeting convened by the OAH Committee on Public History at the 2007 OAH Annual Meeting emphasized the urgency of addressing how departments evaluate public history work. In April 2007, the NCPH Board of Directors voted to undertake a formal study of this issue, inviting the AHA and the OAH to form the Working Group on Evaluating Public History Scholarship, which authored the current report.